Filmmakers From The Middle East: Reform The Funk Reviews The BBC Arabic Festival
Words: Bethany Burgoyne
The BBC Arabic Festival provided a refreshing and creatively effective supply of contemporary Middle Eastern narratives which both educated and challenged the audience. Reform The Funk highlights a few of the films which captured their attention.
In its fifth year, the BBC Arabic Festival hosted over 18 films showcasing an array of documentaries and fictional shorts. Audiences were transported far and wide, from the dry dessert of Northern Iraq to the hussle and bussle of Garbage city in Cairo, visiting a young man’s bedroom in Beirut to the screens of asylum seekers living in Paris. In a time when there is much focus and often misguided conceptions about the Arab world, the vast selection of films allowed for an in-depth exploration of individual countries and their political, as well as social, shifts.
A familiar depiction of the displacement of migrants and asylum seekers sort to capture the psychological and generational impacts such movement is having. Heart wrenching moments in documentaries such as Leen AlFaisal’s The Borrowed Dress provided a sensitive portrayal of the breakup of families and the struggles of continually adjusting to new countries whilst grieving one’s own homeland. Yassmina Karajah’s fictional short film Rupture depicted these struggles from a tender angle, working with four young non-actors; Syrian survivors-of-war settling into their new life in Canada. Whilst Katia Jarjoura directed her short film Only Silence in the streets of Paris, working with actress Masa Zaher to depict a mental and emotional ride through the impact of war and the impossibility of breaking away after leaving the warzone.
A keen focus was put on female representation both on screen and behind the camera as well as progressive narratives about gender roles and sexual orientation, capturing the zeitgeist of our present day. Room for a Man by Anthony Chidiac and What Walaa Wants by Christy Garland were two coming-of-age stories, told with patience and sincerity for displaying the social context of the narrator’s environment.
Chidiac’s self-portrait film, set in his hometown of Beirut, explores the relationship with his family whilst slowly but confidently revealing an intimate insight into his own identity. The overriding effect this piece of film making had was to provide a voice for young homosexual men, whose narrative has often been silenced by social shame and stigma within the region.
Garland follows the life of Walaa, a young girl growing up in Balata refugee camp in the West Bank. The challenges that Walaa faces are allowed to be universally shared through a relatable adolescent narrative, whilst powerfully revealing the hardship of the environment and justice system that is a reality when living in the West Bank.
Within the comedy and creativity category, a mixture of satirical humour and surrealism brought to light imaginative methods for retelling historical moments. Cyril Aris’s fictional film The President’s Visit is a delightful play on local humour through the tale of a Lebanese village learning that the president is planning a visit to its soap factory as part of his campaign to clean up the nation. Fasi (the FDZ) Baki’s Lebanese mockumentary, Manivelle – Last Days of the Man of Tomorrow, is about a man-robot whose ups and downs reflect those of the country. Most notable for transporting the audience to a place of artistic intelligence was Mariakenzi Lahlouis’s film The Calling, creating an ethereal world where time has collapsed and the cycle of life and death is told through a poetic and dreamlike tableau of repetition, hope and the fragility of memories.
Highlighting the necessity for such passionate, purposeful and thought-provoking pieces of film making can be seen in Birds of Sinjar by Ahmed Abid, a brave and poignant portrayal of life in Iraq, focusing on the story of a young man who has been carrying arms since his youth. Aswell as Koka, The Butcher by Bence Máté, a dynamic piece of documentation of the legendary pigeon races of Cairo from a journalistic perspective and All is Well, Lella?! by Rabeb M’Barki, an immensely personal piece of activist documentation about the pollution levels in Tunisia.
If the engagement of the audience and a continual full house for this festival is anything to go by, then there is a demand for more Arabic films to be shown in the UK. Such narratives are helping to broaden our knowledge whilst witnessing the creative talent coming from these culturally rich regions.
Words: Bethany Burgoyne